Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You

But what you can do for your democracy

One of the under-covered stories of the past week was Justin Trudeau's first bill in Parliament -- a private member's bill calling for a national policy on volunteerism.

"Young people get a bad rap, often, for being apathetic, disconnected and cynical about the world," Trudeau said after tabling his bill. "It's not because they don't care about the world. On the contrary; it's because they care so much that they're deeply frustrated that they don't have ways to make the world a better place. They don't have a voice that gets heard to shape the world that will be theirs someday, they keep getting told."

The bill would call for public hearings on the topic of volunteerism as well as a study of how governments support volunteerism in other countries.

Although his lineage makes Justin Trudeau a natural target for conservatives, Trudeau's private member's bill is actually a dream for almost any small-c conservative who is truly faithful to the philosophy.

One of the key tenets of former Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario Mike Harris' Common Sense Revolution was the idea that volunteer efforts were going to replace state activism in many key areas. This never took place because Harris' government never made any real effort to help foster a stronger infrastructure of Civil Society Organizations.

Such an effort, by its very nature, relies on citizens to stand up, determine their own interests, then contribute their efforts toward the service of those interests. Trudeau's bill exemplifies Benjamin Barber's vision of strong democracy -- one wherein citizenship is treated more like a public office than as a passive relationship with the state.

Trudeau's bill fits snugly into Barber's blueprint of a do-it-yourself democracy, one wherein individual autonomy and citizenship is enhanced by diminishing reliance on the state.

Successfully building a volunteer infrastructure in Canada could allow conservative governments to reduce and refocus spending like never before.

While the idyllic days of church-operated hospitals funded by private donations and private fundraising efforts are likely to never return -- the cost of modern healthcare is prohibitive to a pure volunteer approach and government involvement will always remain necessary -- Trudeau's bill, if properly implemented, could lead to a much healthier and stronger democracy in Canada, predicated on a model of strong citizenship.

Unfortunately there are some who don't share Trudeau's wisdom. Bloc Quebecois MP Nicolas Dufor accused Trudeau's bill of fostering "federalist propaganda".

It's unsurprising that the Bloc would oppose Trudeau's bill. Any government policy that helped the development of volunteer organizations could very easily be used by citizens who oppose separatism to organize their own, federalist organizations.

One can only wonder if separatists would enjoy similar good fortune.

If the Liberal party were wise it would adopt Trudeau's private member's bill as an opposition bill. Likewise, if the governing Conservatives were wise they would adopt Trudeau's bill as governmental policy.

Private member's bills don't often make the full transition fron introduction to being implemented, but the base wisdom of Justin Trudeau's bill is impossible to overlook.

Justin Trudeau may yet turn out to be a stronger democrat than his father ever pretended to be.

Lizzie May's Free Ride Is Ovah

Ignatieff will run Liberal candiate against Elizabeth May

Green party leader Elizabeth May's delusions of grandeur have taken another crushing blow today, as Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has announced that he plans to run a Liberal candidate against her wherever she chooses to run.

In the 2008 federal election, then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion declined to run a candidate against May. In return, May declined to run a Green candidate against Dion. The agreement, tenuously justified according to "leader's courtesy" (a measure unprecedented in a general election), was the first chapter in the story of considerable cooperation between May and Dion.

The victory May would have scored if her's and Dion's machinations were successful would have been highly symbolic -- May was running in Central Nova against Deputy Prime Minister Peter MacKay.

Speaking in Halifax, Ignatieff explained that this is merely part of his plan to run candidates in every running in the country.

"I have respect for Elizabeth May but I'm running a national party and in a national party we have candidates in 308 ridings across the country," Ignatieff insisted.

This comes as May has attempted to retake the national spotlight in order to insist that the Green party hasn't lost relevance.

With the exception of a brief episode during the Liberal party's flirtations with a coalition government in which it was suggested May would recieve a Senate seat, both May and the Green party have been largely invisible since the 2008 campaign.

"When you're in a federal election campaign, the leaders get a certain amount of attention that doesn't continue past the election if you're not either leader of the official Opposition or prime minister," May said. "That's the reality of politics."

Unfortunately for May, however, this is hardly the case.

There are plenty of ways for a developing political party to maintain visibility outside of an election. After failing to elect any candidates in the 1988 federal election, Preston Manning's Reform party successfully built its reputation by opposing the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords.

As Tom Flanagan notes in Waiting for the Wave, his far-from-disinterested analysis of the Reform party's rise, even the negative press garnered by the Reform party's campaigns against the two consitutional reform accords were successful in increasing party recognition.

For a largely-unknown party, there really may be no such thing as bad publicity.

But then again, therein lies the rub. One could very much ask the question of whether or not the Green party is a developing party at all. After all, it's been around since 1983 and has never elected an MP. Ever.

Whatever the Green party is developing into, it's clear that it isn't developing into a political contender. Now the most promising political alliance the party has ever built -- one that got the party its first MP (albeit an unelected MP), got its leader into the televised debates and got its leader a fighting chance in winning a massive upset victory -- seems to have gone the way of the Green Shift.

There is, of course, another difference between the circumstances confronting the Green party and those faced by the Reform party in 1988. Elizabeth May is spending a considerable part of her time promoting her new book, Global Warming for Dummies. In 1988 Manning was promoting a book of his own. Except that his book, The New Canada was largely about his party, and fully outlined his party's political agenda.

By contrast, May's book is yet another addition to the rapidly-growing genre of climate change apocalypticism. If Global Warming for Dummies outlined the Green party's full political agenda it would only confirm the popular perception that the party is a one-issue party.

Despite Elizabeth May's insistence that the very real struggles her party is currently facing is just "the reality of politics", the truth is much different -- her party is in desperate need of new leadership.

The free ride she's been enjoying by virtue of the Liberal party's generosity is over. The free ride she's been enjoying from the Green party should follow.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Far and Wide - "A New Dynamic?"

Zoe Caron - "Canadians Want Environment either a) OVER Economy, or b) AND Economy"

No Statue For You

US Supreme Court rules that Fred Phelps has no right to hateful monument

In a decision handed down by the US Supreme Court, Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps has failed in an attempt to abuse the first amendment of the United States constitution in order to spread his vile and hateful gospel.

Phelps dearly wanted to contribute a statue of murder victim Matthew Shepard to a park in Casper, Wyoming featuring statues of historical significance. The inscription on the statue reads "Matthew Shepard Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God's Warning 'thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.' Leviticus 18:22."

Phelps' Shepard statue was rejected twice -- once in 2003 and again in 2007.

When it was rejected the second time Phelps apparently ran to the Supreme Court where he's discovered, to his dismay, that while the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, speech, expression and the press, it does not entitle one to display hate propaganda on public property.

Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church had previously picketed Shepard's funeral where thet waved signs reading "Matt in hell" and oh-so-classily harassed his grieving parents.

One can imagine that Phelps and the WBC will likely stage some kind of protest in order to voice their objections to the Supreme Court ruling, but one thing is for certain: very few people should care.

The state is not obligated to help Phelps disseminate his intolerance under the guise of free speech.

Michael Ignatieff's Brave New Take on Unity

Ignatieff insists supporting the oil sands supports national unity

For years, federal politicians in Canada had a one-track mind in regards to national unity: please Quebec at all costs.

This view was particularly and logically typical of Liberal leaders, who have needed to maintain their strength in Quebec (along with Ontario) in order to remain formidable. For years being strong in Quebec has promised to make the difference between the Liberals governing and sinking to third party status.

Michael Ignatieff seems to have a new strategy toward national unity: appeal to Western Canada, particularly Alberta.

Speaking to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Ignatieff insisted that the oil sands don't merely benefit Alberta, but rather benefit the entirety of Canada.

"The oilsands are an integral part of the future of Canada," Ignatieff insisted. "No other country in the word would toss away this advantage."

Ignatieff also believes that Canadians are looking at the oilsands in a shortsighted manner. "We're operating this thing like it was the Klondike, and it's not the Klondike. We're going to be there for a century or more," he added.

Not that Ignatieff doesn't understand the environmental issues confronting the oilsands, as underscored in a recent issue of National Geographic.

"We need to be able to stand up for the oilsands and ask the oil industry to do better. These communities need to become environmentally sustainable, but they also need to become socially sustainable."

Ignatieff has suggested that the federal government should match the $2 billion recently pledged by the Alberta government to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the tarsand projects. He's also pledged his Liberal party to guard Alberta's interests in any national greenhouse gas reduction scheme.

"We will be watching in Opposition to make sure [a cap-and-trade system] won't hurt Alberta," he pledged. "We need to work with the industry, and not against the industry."

Ignatieff's support of the oil sands isn't a sudden change of policy on his part. Ignatieff has defended the oilsands on several occasions, including in Quebec.

"The stupidest thing you can do [is] to run against an industry that is providing employment for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, and not just in Alberta, but right across the country," Ignatieff told a Montreal audience in January.

According to Ignatieff, another good reason to support the oil sands is the influence that gives Canada over its number one trading partner.

"We provide more oil to the United States than Saudi Arabia. That changes everything," he continued. "It means that when the prime minister of Canada goes into the White House, he gets listened to, in ways that Canadian prime ministers have not been listened to before. We're not the nice little friendly northern cousin. They can't run their economy without us."

Back in Alberta, Ignatieff also took some time out to address how Stephane Dion's Green Shift was recieved in Western Canada. "I think you can't win elections if you are adding to the input costs of a farmer ...or a trucker," Ignatieff said. "You got to work with the grain of Canadians and not against them."

Of course, Ignatieff didn't mention that the central plank of Dion's Green Shift was actually Ignatieff's own carbon tax.

If Ignatieff is true to his words, Western Canadians may finally be able to trust the Liberal party on the topic of the national economy. "Alberta is a valued treasured part of our federation," he said in January. "Never pit one region of the country against the other when you develop economic policy."

But as Kelly McParland notes on the Naational Post's Full Comment blog, Ignatieff is accepting his fair share of risks in pledging his support for the oilsands.

For one thing, he risks alienating the environmental demographic that Stephane Dion worked so hard to connect with.

But as it regards national unity, reconnecting with the West is a positive step in the right direction.

This is not only good for Canada, but it will almost certainly turn out to be good for the Liberal party. If Ignatieff can convince Western Canadians he's sincere, the Liberal party may finally get a second look from many out West.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Montreal Simon - "Michael Ignatieff and the Clean Dirty Oil"

Michael Stickings - "The Rise of Michael Ignatieff"

Far and Wide - "It Is What It Is"

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Call for International Reform

No time like the present to fix Interpol

For as long as there have been criminals willing to cross international borders there have been criminals relying on those borders to protect them from conviction.

The International Criminal Police Organization is meant to help countries capture border-hopping criminals by fostering cooperation between police forces in various countries.

In The International, Clive Owen plays Louis Salinger, an Interpol investigator attempting to shut down a bank with a history of engaging in extremely dirty deals across international boundaries. He's backed up by Elanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), a New York District Attorney trying desperately to build their case before a jealous scramble over jurisdiction brings their efforts screeching to a halt.

The executive of the bank in the film are swinging a very dirty arms deal that would sell missiles to Iran that Israel already has the counter-measures for, and leave a path of murder in their wake -- including the assassination of a top candidate for the Prime Ministership of Italy.

Salinger and Whitman find their efforts stymied at numerous turns if not by corruption on the part of individual law enforcement bureaucrats, then by the very structure of Interpol itself.

Contrary to public belief, Interpol actually has very few official powers of its own. It functions mainly as an intelligence organization, giving information to local authorities in various jurisdictions and hoping they'll make arrests on the behalf of the state issuing an arrest warrant.

Operating through a National Central Bureau in each member country -- there are 187 in all -- local authorities can gain access to Interpol's database and can receive advisories whenever a person of interest is within their jurisdiction.

However, the structural difficulties of dealing with various levels of jurisdiction can make purusing an accused criminal through Interpol's channels a very daunting task. Interpol still requires extradiction across international borders. Unfortunately, not all of the countries in Interpol have extradition treaties with one another.

When it comes to high-priority suspects these structural constraints can make it extremely difficult to capture suspects.

Interpol could overcome some of these issues by increasing the level of cooperation in the pursuit and capture of criminals. Establishing a cooperative force to pursue and arrest high-interest suspects across any number of jurisdictions could make it considerably easier for Interpol to conduct its work across jurisdictions.

Naturally, such a force would have to be formed on a voluntary basis, and could not operate in any non-participant state.

But at a time when the window to capture a suspect can close within a matter of hours or days, such cooperation will be necessary to ensure that such criminals can be brought to justice.

The alternative, as explored in The International, may well be vigilante justice -- something that few people would like to see.

The Real Threat to Faith

Religious extremists, not questions, is a threat to religious faith

In a recent column on the Examiner website, Trina Hoaks wrote about the threat to faith that some religious believers think atheists pose.

As mentioned previously, to pretend that the questions and challenges posed by atheists to religion is a threat to religious faith is purely unfounded alarmism. If anything, faith needs these questions and challenges in order to remain relevant in a world that so often seems to contradict it.

This isn't, however, to say that religious faith doesn't face any threats at all.

Quite the contrary.

Ironically, however, the threats to religious faith most often aren't posed by those who don't believe. Rather, the most dangerous threats to religious faith are often posed by those who profess to believe.

Consider the ever-controversial Westboro Baptist Church.

In their most recent outrage, the WBC will picket Moore High School in Moore, Oklahoma. In a press release on their Church webpage/homophobic hate site, the WBC declares "We will picket your really large high school because you Southern hypocrites keep lying to the children." It continues, "God has cursed you, with your parents' lies. Now God is rejecting your filthy raging lies violent brats."

The press release also claims that "God hates Moore High School", and labels all the students as "sluts".

Naturally, the parents of children attending the school are opposed to Church's presence.

"I don't have anything against them protesting. We live in America they're allowed to protest," Andrea Smith admitted. "I have a problem when it takes away my child's right to go to school without being harassed. Predators aren't allowed within so many yards of the school. Speeding is illegal around the school. Everything you can think of is illegal around the school. So, why should they be allowed to spread their filth around the school?"

Whatever the Westboro Baptist Church hopes to accomplish with this protest is largely known to themselves alone. But it's almost certain that they won't convince any of the students at Moore High School won't be converted to their perverse version of Christianity.

It isn't hard to imagine that, should someone be told that God hates them, they won't want much to do with that God.

Even more disturbing is the notion that God not only hates the people who've committed whatever grave sin has been committed at Moore High School -- knowing the WBC, it could be anything from teaching anything even remotely resembling tolerance of homosexuality to eating meat on Friday -- but also hates innocent bystanders.

The vast majority of Christians are taught that God loves them. The Westboro Baptist Church, however, preaches a much different message: not necessarily that God loves them, but rather that God hates everyone else.

As truthful as it is, to describe the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate cult has become something of a cliche.

Nothing contradicts the notion of a benevolent God then the insistence that God hates nearly anyone and everyone a particular Church disagrees with -- which just so happens to include you if you aren't a member of that Church.

If anything, the WBC is a reminder that holy scriptures are often the word of man, not necessarily the word of God. Even the word of God as translated by man can't help but reflect the personal biases of its translator.

In the case of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, that particular bias is purely evident: hatred. Not God's hatred, but Phelps'.

A thinking believer can understand this very quickly. A non-thinking or anti-thinking believer, like any member of Phelps' congregation, is much less likely to be able to tell the difference.

Fortunately, the WBC isn't attracting many converts. Of all the members of the church, most of the members are related to Phelps.

What is of greater concern is what Phelps is doing to the idea of religious faith. By insisting that the one, true faith is rightfully the domain of hateful and vindictive people, it isn't at all surprising that people like Phelps send many people running as far away from religious faith as they can get.

They, not atheists, are the real threat to religious faith.

Sizing Up the Competition

Peter MacKay faces formidable competition for the office of NATO Secretary General

If one considers history alone, Peter MacKay's chances of being elected as NATO's next Secretary General are very slim.

As some have previously noted, an unwritten agreement between the United States and European states guarantees European countries control over the Secretary General's office as long as the supreme military commander remains an American.

But even with such an unwritten policy in place it should be expected that whomever winds up winning the job should be capable of performing it.

As it stands, there are currently four other candidates for the job.

Poland has nominated its Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, for the job. Sikorski studied Politics, Economics and Philosophy at Oxford and covered the 1980s Afghanistan and Angola for the British Press.

Sikorski also served as Poland's Defence Minister between 2005 and 2007 before he resigned in order to become Foreign Minister. Sikorski also held a number of deputy minister portfolios throughout the 1990s.

Between 2002 and 2005 Sikorski was a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was also executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative, an organization committed to revitalizing relations between the Atlantic democracies.

Sikorski strongly supports both close relations between Poland the United States, as well as Poland's role within the European Union. Foremost among his goals is the modernization of the Polish military.

Radoslaw Sikorski is clearly a strong candidate for Secretary General. But he does face one serious hurdle.

Sikorski is the man who signed the Missile Defense treaty with the United States. As a result, Sikorski's election as Secretary General could jeopardize efforts to rebuild NATO's currently-fractious relationship with Russia.

Considering Russia's quite natural opposition to the Missile Defense Shield -- not only should such a countermeasure be unnecessary against a country that is technically still an American ally, but it also does risk upsetting the delicate balance of power established between the two countries over long and arduous non-proliferation negotiations.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passi is also considred a strong candidate to become NATO Secretary General.

Passi's bid to become Secretary General was seemingly overshadowed by Irina Bakova's campaign to head UNESCO.

Passi achieved prominence in 1990 when he drafted a bill calling for Bulgaria to quit the Warsaw Pact and join NATO. He also drafted the bill that culminated with Bulgaria joining the EU.

Former British Defense Minister Des Browne has also been suggested as a candidate.

Browne has solid diplomatic credentials within Britain, having served on the Northern Ireland Select Committee in 1997.

However, Browne also faced a great deal of criticism when he allowed British soldiers taken prisoner by Iran in 2007 to publish their stories.

Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Jonas Gaer Stoere has also been proposed as a candidate. Stoere studied law at Harvard before serving as the Norwegian ambassador to the United Nations office in Geneva.

He has also served as the Executive Director of the World Health Organization and the Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross.

Along with MacKay, these individuals -- Stoere, Browne, Passi and Sikorski -- seem to be the front-runners for the role of Secretary General.

For their own part, the Americans aren't endorsing any of the candidates, instead merely naming the criterea by which they think a Secretary General would be successful.

"What's important from my standpoint is simply that we have somebody who has the broadest possible support across the alliance and frankly somebody who has the executive experience to run a very large and complex organisation," said US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Sikorski is almost certainly MacKay's most formidable rival for this job. Unfortuantely, he also has one key shortcoming: he already has a tenuous history with at least one country in which NATO would like to forge strong diplomatic ties. Sikorski as General Secretary would be a definite liability toward that end.

MacKay is as strong a candidate as Sikorski, and he doesn't have the same history with Russia.

Peter MacKay's bid to become the Secretary General of NATO may be more favourable than he's otherwise been credited.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Challenging Dogma is Bad For Your Academic Health

Questioning efficacy of reserve system has political scientist in hot water

If there's any one rule that has come to predominate politics in Canada, it is this:

Don't ask questions about the state of Canada's aboriginal people. If you must ask questions, don't ask the wrong ones.

This at least seems to be the lesson to be learned from the recent experience of Frances Widdowson, whom many Canadian academics have been slowly stewing ever since a presentation she gave last year.

At the June 2008 meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association Widdowson cited Canada's Aboriginal Reserve system for encouraging unemployment and the social problems that come with it. She insisted that the best way to help Aboriginals is to assimilate them.

This naturally provoked a great deal of outrage from those present, including a man who allegedly asked her if she wanted to "take it outside".

After the presentation -- which according to reports seemingly may not have even been finished -- accusations of hate speech were levelled against Widdowson. There were also calls for McGill university press to be censured for printing Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: the Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation, Widowson's book on the subject.

Some have gone so far as to accuse Widdowson of peddling "master race fantasies".

It's even been suggested that views such as Widdowson's may discourage aboriginals from seeking careers in academia.

Widdowson isn't the only individual -- academic or otherwise -- facing difficulties for challenging an entrenched dogma in Canadian thought on aboriginal affairs.

Also in June of last year Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre questioned how well money spent on aboriginal reserves has actually served Canada's aboriginals.

"We spend 10 billion dollars -- 10 billion dollars -- in annual spending this year alone now, that is an exceptional amount of money, and that is on top of all the resource revenue that goes to reserves that sit on petroleum products or sit on uranium mines, other things where companies have to pay them royalties," Poilevre said. "And that's on top of all that money that they earn on their own reserves. That is an incredible amount of money."

"Some of us are starting to ask: 'Are we really getting value for all of this money, and is more money really going to solve the problem?'," Poilievre asked. "My view is that we need to engender the values of hard work and independence and self reliance. That's the solution in the long run -- more money will not solve it."

Poilievre's insistence that aboriginals need to learn "independence and self reliance" was treated as offensive by a great many people. But for those who focused on that unfortunate choice of words, the real issue was entirely lost: namely, the endemic poverty that persists on Canadian aboriginal reserves.

Tom Flanagan has also stirred up a great deal of controversy with his own recommendations on aboriginal policy. In his book First Nations? Second Thoughts, Flanagan suggests that, among other things, aboriginals should be given property rights over reservation lands so that they may sell those lands or use them as collateral for bank loans.

The ultimate result of that would be transforming reservation lands from a trust handed down from generation to generation into properties no different from any other property.

In other words, assimilation by property.

Assimilation has formally been on the national agenda before. Assimilation was very much at the heart of the Residential School system, just as it was the very soul of Pierre Trudeau's "citizens plus" model for aboriginals.

Assimilation has been rejected by Canada's aboriginals at every turn, and naturally so. Anyone who believes in the right of aboriginal Canadians to self-determination cannot accept forced assimilation. Those who favour assimilation should understand why this is so.

But what is emerging in this particular debate isn't a battle between racism and tolerance, as many of those who favour the status quo in regards to aboriginal policy would insist. Rather, this is a battle between a call for pragmatism -- however ill-conceived -- and a dogma of liberal guilt.

Canadians can no longer ignore the fact that our aboriginal policies -- policies which reinforces the notion that aboriginal Canadians and non-aboriginal Canadians live separate lives -- have failed.

For $10 billion annually poverty on aboriginal reserves should be a thing of the past. Yet it isn't, and it may come down to questionable priorities.

Funding the fight against assimilation may be a losing battle. In one way or another it could be said that assimilation is inevitable, and that the only question remaining is whether this assimilation will be aboriginals assimilating within Canadian society or traditional aboriginal lifestyles assimilating within the modern world.

Yet should aboriginal cultures fade into history as many aboriginal leaders fear, there is no question that this would be an incredible loss.

Balancing the fight against poverty and the fight to preserve aboriginal culture is a difficult task. There's no reason why both can't be done, but it's clearly time for a paradigm shift in the approach to each. The status quo isn't working.

Many Canadians, sadly, are perfectly content with the aboriginal affairs status quo. The poverty on aboriginal reserves is something that many Canadians never see. Aboriginal reserves are, for many Canadians, something they never see. At most, perhaps they pass one on the highway on occasion and see it from a distance at best.

The outrage directed at Frances Widdowson is simply further evidence of how this insular relationship has fed the dogma that has come to dominate Canadian thinking on aboriginal affairs.

It may be an exaggeration to suggest that Widdowson's academic career is threatened by her thinking on the topic. Then again, it might not be. If her career truly is threatened by her antithetical thinking on aboriginal affairs, then she isn't alone.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Lee Harding - "Left Wing vs Aboriginal Status Quo"

Metis Bare Facts - "Hypocrisy in the World

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mario Dumont Is Coming to Your TV

ADQ leader making jump to television journalism

Mario Dumont is coming to your TV.

Well, okay, maybe not your TV. Unless you live in Quebec.

A day after Dumont finally finalized his departure from the leadership of the Action Democratique du Quebec, it's been announced that Dumont will host a public affairs program on TQS.

With Dumont getting set to take this new job, the ADQ can finally get down to the business of choosing his successor.

The task won't be easy.

For one thing, the party has very few rules regarding how a leadership campaign is to be conducted.

"The party has never really had to choose a leader so they're making up the rules as they go along," explains McGill University's Antonia Maioni, who's uncertain that the party will even survive Dumont's departure. "They'll probably have some sort of choice in the fall, but I don't even know if the party is going to get to the fall."

"The ADQ has more or less run its course in trying to become the third party that takes the place of one of the major parties," Maioni insists.

On top of all this, no contenders have yet to bid on the ADQ leadership.

For his own part, Dumont disagrees with Maioni's prognosis regarding the ADQ's survival. "I think I've installed a new political voice in the landscape, despite what they are saying today," Dumont insists.

But there's little question that the ADQ cannot survive without any leader at all. It may even come down to Janvier Grondin, who so recently insisted that Dumont had to depart the leadership so a replacement process could begin, to step in the take the party reins.

Survival of the Fittest (Faith)

Weak faith is not worth preserving

In a column appearing on the Examiner website, atheist examiner Trina Hoaks addresses the notion that atheism somehow poses a threat to religious faith.

"There does seem to be an awareness that atheism is here to stay and that its numbers seem to be growing," Hoaks writes. "This is in stark contrast to the mood not too long ago. Some religious leaders and writers supposed that atheism would fizzle out, or at least that is what they expressed. Whether they really believe it or not is debatable."

Hoaks goes on to write about an episode of Focus on the Family in which Dr James Dobson and Dr Albert Mohler discussed how to combat the "new atheism".

In the program, Mohler insisted that "the 'New Atheists' are 'dangerous' and a 'threat'."

This, of course, begs an important question: a threat to whom, precisely?

The argument often raised about the "new atheists" is that they're dangerous to religious faith: essentially, that the challenges of these atheists may cause religious believers to question, or even abandon, their faith.

The self-appointed representatives of atheism are a formidable lot. Richard Dawkins is a skillful speaker and writer, as are Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.

But to anyone who does themselves the intellectual service of periodically pondering their faith, they are no threat.

Day to day life should challenge the faith of any believer. One doesn't need to look far to find suffering or injustice. Particularly, the belief in a benevolent, intervening and even retributive God can be difficult to maintain in the face of a clearly imperfect world.

In the face of such a revelation, it's only natural for a rational person to question how deeply they believe in such a being, and why. A thinking person's faith should be flexible enough to be situated within the world as it is. It shouldn't rely on the world being as one wishes it to be.

If one's faith is strong and their reasons for belief well-founded, their faith should survive nearly any challenge. If it isn't, then their faith likely wasn't worth preserving in the first place.

In the world of religious faith, as in the world of nature, survival is largely preserved for the fittest.

The answer to the imaginary "threat" posed by the "new atheism" isn't to censor or silence their messages, as some extreme individuals such as Charles McVety and Britain's Stephen Green seem to have called for.

Rather, the answer is for thinking believers, just as Dawkins has called upon atheists, to speak up and challenge atheism's most aggressive proselytizers on their own intellectual ground.

Sometimes it can certainly be difficult to decide how to best do this.

Religious thinkers haven't always been up to the task. For example some, Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort chiefly among them, have attempted to challenge atheisms' canonization of the Theory of Evolution by attempting to refute it. A wiser strategy would be to challenge the purported right of atheists to canonize it as their version of holy scripture.

They must contend with any intellectual environment that proves hostile to religion. Hoaks writes that Mohler insists 'intellectual intimidation' "is taking place in colleges across the nation and that parents need to arm their children against this kind of 'religious persecution'. He also said that atheists persecute the young and high school students through intellectual intimidation."

There are some who seek to foment an intellectual environment hostile to religious belief. These individuals should be revealed for what they are. Many of them, such as PZ Myers, will do so on their own if ever placed within an academic environment in which they face any faint trace of disagreement.

They, like Dawkins et al, are no threat to religious belief; although they should be challenged nonetheless.

The path religious believers choose to follow isn't an easy one. They must find a way to adapt the concept of God to the real world. They must learn to tell the word of God from the word of man. Most importantly, they must have the courage to live according to their convictions, regardless of whatever the detractors of religion would tell them.

If religious believers cannot do this, then perhaps it really is time for religion to go bravely into the dark night.

But atheism's most vigorous proselytizers may be in for a surprise. There are many religious believers who are prepared to take on this challenge.

All they need to do now is stand up and challenge their detractors.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ahenakew Walks Free

A difference in venue can make all the difference in the world

In what will certainly wind up being an extremely controversial decision, David Ahenakew has been acquitted of inciting hatred against Jews.

In the trial, stemming from a 2002 speech and media interview given by Ahenakew, Justice Wilfred Tucker found that Ahenakew hadn't intended to incite hatred in his comments.

Reading the news coverage of the decision seems to indicate a will on Tucker's part to find Ahenakew not guilty.

In his ruling Tucker echoed Doug Christie's extremely curious reasoning, agreeing that Ahenakew couldn't have intended to promote hatred of Jews if he hadn't planned to speak about that topic.

"There was no consent to an interview about Jews or the question of whether they started the Second World War. That is not the subject that anyone would have foreseen," Christie reasoned. "He consented to an interview about the consent form that Natives were required to sign in order to get medical treatment. And that was the thing that got him and a lot of other Native people very upset and he expected to talk about that, and that's what the judge found."

Reportedly, Ahenakew tried to end the interview before he made the comments, but Star Phoenix reporter Betty Ann Adam insisting on asking him about his previous speech, in which he accused Jews of starting the second world war.

That's when Ahenakew uttered the infamous words.

"How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over, that's going to dominate?" Ahenakew asked. "The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That's how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany or Europe."

"That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know," Ahenakew insisted. "Jews would have owned the God-damned world."

Christie's argument -- clearly accepted by Tucker -- regarding whether or not Ahenakew's comments were premeditated is complete and utter nonsense.

For one thing, Canadian criminal law doesn't require premeditation in order to prove intent. Second degree murder, for example, requires an intent to kill but not necessarily premeditation.

In other words, premeditation doesn't define intent.

It's hard to imagine that anyone who would describe another group of people as a "disease" doesn't intend for other people to view them with similar revulsion. The words really do speak for themselves.

But Ahenakew's acquittal also speaks for itself. It also speaks for the extremely tenuous nature of Canada's hate crime laws, and speaks to very different results attained in very different venues.

In a Human Rights Commission Ahenakew would have had no right to legal counsel and his complainants would have been subject to extremely lax rules of evidence. In a Human Rights Commission, Ahenakew would have very likely been convicted.

Of course, Tucker's decision shouldn't be confused for condonation of Ahanakew's remarks.

"The opinions distorted historical facts and general views expressed by the accused can only be viewed with revulsion and disgust by ordinary Canadians," Tucker announced. "That anyone would characterize the murder of millions of innocent human beings as 'getting rid of a disease,' or 'trying to clean up the world' is incomprehensible to decent people."

In contrast to rulings by Canada's various Human Rights Commissions, Ahenakew has walked away from this one without even having to apologize.

"I'm still the same guy that was born, that served the world, that served the army, that served the people. I'm still that same guy," Ahenakew said. "And I'm too damn old now to change anyways."

That's a far cry from the mandated apology and ban on commenting on Jews that could have been ordered by a Human Rights Commission.

Whether or not Ahenakew's acquittal is a setback for Canada's hate speech legislation is something that will remain to be seen, as those facing similar charges in future will almost certainly look to it as a precedent under which they, too, can be acquitted.

In the meantime what will almost certainly fall into greater question is whether or not these laws should be kept at all.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Zach Bell - "Jewish Thoughts On David Ahenakew"

Rob Harvie - "Saskatoon Provincial Court Finds Ahenakew 'Not Guilty' of Hate Crime And Probably Unintentionally Does the Right Thing"

Shmohawk - "revolting, disgusting and untrue"

Bad History Revisited

The controversy over Kathy Shaidle's appearance on TVO's The Agenda has bubbled forth in various forms.

First, there was Warren Kinsella's campaign to have her appearance on the show cancelled. Then there's the aftermath -- allegations that Kinsella attempted to intimidate the show's host, Steve Paikin, into cancelling his appearance.

Left-wing blogger and known anti-Semite Robert McClelland edited an excerpt out of the video in which he insists that "Dr Robert Buckman slaps down the 'Stalin killed in the name of atheism' talking point favoured by right wing pundits like Kathy Shaidle".

Shaidle's adversaries have jumped all over the video, frantically pointing to it as evidence of Shaidle's alleged stupidity.

In the video, Shaidle confronts Buckman over the relationship between atheism and Joseph Stalin's murderous acts.

Clearly, Buckman hasn't read all the books about Joseph Stalin or the Soviet Union.

If he really had he would be aware of a Soviet organization known as the League of the Militant Godless, and what Joseph Stalin did in 1936 when he entrenched not merely atheism, but anti-religiosity in the Soviet constitution.

Historians credit the pressure applied by the League of the Militant Godless with allowing Stalin to make this move which allowed him to dispossess the Russian Orthodox Church of various Church properties, although Stalin softened his policy toward the Church when he needed them during WWII.

So if Buckman wants to admit that Stalin killed people "because they were religion" even as he entrenched anti-religion in the Russian Constitution, he can't honestly pretend that these two things weren't related.

On the other hand Buckman insists that suggesting that Stalin killed in the name of atheism is like suggesting that Adolph Hitler, a vegetarian, killed in the name of vegetarianism. Again, Buckman is overlooking the nuances of history in order to make this argument.

After all, vegetarianism was not entrenched in the Constitution of the Third Reich. (Nor, for that matter, was atheism.) The anti-religious cause, however, was entrenched in the Soviet constitution.

Anyone who has done their research on the relationship between the Soviet Union and religion knows about these things. If Buckman has really read the books, as he insists he has, then his performance on The Agenda isn't merely ignorance, it's willful ignorance.

Individuals such as Robert McClelland take this a step forward when they edit the video to make it seem as if it were Shaidle who brought the issue up in the first place. Quite the contrary, it was Buckman himself who brought up the question of how many people religion has allegedly killed.

As far as Joseph Stalin, his victims and atheism are concerned, Dr Buckman's assertion is not only bad history, but indeed atrocious history.

Unsurprisngly, people like McClelland, JJ and Lulu don't know the difference.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gaudet Hacked, Buzz Sawed

In January 2009, the CBC hosted a special edition of the Dragons' Den in which they entertained presentations on how to fix the Canadian Economy. Among the presenters were Kevin Gaudet and Buzz Hargrove.

On the program, the Dragons were given a hypothetical $20 billion that they could spend however they thought could best stimulate the economy.

Gaudet, the national director of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, presented first, calling for tax reflief:

Gaudet began by suggesting there's a high level of consensus in favour of tax relief, citing support for the idea from Barack Obama's chief economic adviser, Christina Romer, citing her insistence that every $1 of tax relief stimulates an economy threefold.

More importantly, Gaudet came with specific recommendations on how that tax relief -- a full $20 billion worth -- could be implemented on a permanent, structural basis.

However, Gaudet wanted to direct that tax relief almost exclusively toward Middle Class taxpayers, with a very small portion going to business. Irene Darra's question about whether or not Canadians would spend that money or save it -- or use it to pay down debt -- seems more than a little ridiculous.

Considering that the global economy is currently grappling with an economic crisis built on defaulting debts it seems that tax relief being used to pay down debt would actually be a very positive step.

There's little question that the Canadian economy wouldn't be stimulated by the full hypothetical $20 billion. But a consumer carrying a smaller debt load is a consumer with cause for greater confidence.

Gaudet was followed by former Canadian Autoworkers Union President Buzz Hargrove, who called on the Dragons to "forget about" the CTF and forget about tax relief:

Compared to Gaudet, who arrived with a well-prepared presentation, Hargrove's presentation was poorly concieved. His delivery was worse.

Hargrove pushed hard for an exclusive push toward not only a stimulus package, but for a stimulus program that would focus largely on the auto and forestry industry.

Hargrove peddled a victim mentality, arguing that the allegedly-otherwise mighty North American automakers have been victimized by bad government policy (although he failed to elaborate on which policies were allegedly harming the auto industry), a discouraging credit market and by what he deemed unfair trade practices.

He called for stimulus of the credit market and protectionist measures -- particularly against Asian carmakers. Hargrove somehow overlooks the fact that Toyota in particular is one of the few automakers actually opening new plants in Canada as opposed to closing them.

Hargrove's suggestion that leasing may be a better model for carmakers is an intriguing idea. But Hargrove's suggestion that credit should be loosened up so consumers can take on more debt at a time of economic uncertainty is ill-conceived.

For one thing, the low consumer condfidence argument has to be considered to apply. One would be foolish to think that consumers who are leery about spending money would be interested in taking on additional debt load in order to do so.

Neither Gaudet nor Hargrove got a particularly gentle ride from the Dragons. There's good reason for this.

Gaudet and Hargrove both represent the extreme ends of the ideological spectrum that together navigated the global economy into the crisis that it's currently in.

Gaudet's focus on tax relief and allowing market forces to run their course unimpeded has already shown its toxic effects. After all, the kind of unscrupulous greed that helped precipitate this crisis should properly be considered to be a market force, likewise with the notions of anyone who thinks they should be able to earn money without producing anything of value.

Hargrove's argument that the hypothetical $20 billion should be spent heavily on the auto industry is not only clearly self-interested -- even if he isn't the president of CAW anymore, he clearly has an intrest in seeing the organization succeed -- but it also overlooks the highly questionable record of Keynesian economics over the past forty years.

In hindsight, one certainly couldn't envy Gaudet or Hargrove. The Dragons' Den seems like an extremely intense environment. Any environment that can seemingly stagger a consumate tax fighter like Kevin Gaudet cannot be taken lightly.

The propositions of both men merely reflect the alternating extremes of economic policy followed over the past thirty years. The Dragons were right to adopt the propositions of neither man, and were probably right to decline to give a red cent to the big three automakers.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Rick Spence - "Dragons Second-Guess Stephen Harper"

No Time to Waste

ADQ needs new leader as soon as possible

When a political party suffers a change in fortunes as drastic as the one the Action Democratique du Quebec suffered over the past year, the most important thing is to start working on repairing the damage and cleaning up the mess.

In order to do this, it's important to have strong leadership.

It's on this note that the ADQ has been in something of a quandry since losing 32 seats in the National Assembly. ADQ leader Mario Dumont immediately announced his resignation following his party's ignomious defeat.

However, Dumont didn't note precisely when he'd vacate the leadership of the ADQ.

Thus the dilemma the ADQ faces. It needs strong leadership in order to mount any kind of comeback in a future election, and needs to begin their rebuilding efforts immediately. But with Dumont prolonging his departure that work cannot effectively begin.

Janvier Grondin, the MNA for Beauce-Nord, gave a radio interview in which he stressed the need for Dumont to depart the ADQ leadership as quickly as possible.

"Everything that drags along gets dirty," Grondin announced. "This shouldn't drag on. A political party without a leader isn't good for anybody."

Unfortunately, the ADQ's rules forbid even setting the rules for a leadership contest until Dumont leaves office, let alone selecting his successor.

Mario Dumont has served the ADQ well. But if he truly doesn't intend to stay on as leader he needs to leave the leadership as quickly as he can. Making his party wait for the opportunity to replace him serves no one well.

Unless Dumont has changed his mind and decided to stay, he needs to go and do so as soon as possible.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

You Have to Stand For Something

This is the 1000th post written to the Nexus of Assholery. On occasions such as this, your not-so-humble scribe likes to take a few minutes out and write from a more personal perspective.

1000 posts seems like as good a time as any to reflect on what
The Nexus is supposed to be. The following is a reflection on precisely that.


In the increasingly complex and increasingly post-modern world, it can often be hard to decide precisely what one stands for.

Some people are up to the challenge of making this decision. History's greatest figures are known as such because, win or lose, they staked out what they believed in and refused to falter.

Many people aren't as resolute in their beliefs as individuals such as Martin Luther King, Tommy Douglas or Scotty Bowman. The pages of history are equally filled with figures such as Oliver Cromwell, Brian Mulroney and Neville Chamberlain -- individuals who proved flexible in their beliefs to the detriment of many.

Much worse than these people, however, are an even more dangerous group of people. These are the people who believe in nothing, or who in the very least refuse to stand up for their beliefs.

Having nothing to stand for isn't merely an absence of conviction. In it's own way, believing in nothing is a particularly pervasive moral hazard.

For one thing, believing in nothing silences a potentially powerful voice. Many worthy and important causes were achieved because people who may otherwise regard themselves as too powerless or insignificant to be part of something important.

To choose to stand for nothing out of fear of futility is merely one moral hazard of not actually believing in anything.

Another moral hazard reflects the price of a lack of conviction: those who believe in nothing are all the more likely to be ruled by people who do believe in something -- even if what these particular individuals believe in should be judged as abhorrent by any rational or moral person.

A lack of beliefs, by necessity, must flow out of an individual's disinterest in the world around them. Just as those who believe in nothing are likely to be ruled over by individuals who hold beliefs of their own, those who are disinterested are destined to be ruled over by those who are. Sometimes their interests may not reflect what such an individual would want from their life.

A particular moral hazard is that of ad hominem reasoning. Often, ad hominem reasoning is the intellectual refuge of those who have confined themselves within a political ideology so deeply that they cannot separate politics from morality. More importantly, they can't separate the ideas of anyone who might disagree with them from from narrowly-defined notions of immorality.

An ad hominem argument is often explained as attempting to argue that because a particular individual is evil, anything they say is evil. Ad hominem reasoning takes this notion an illogical step further -- it is found deeply entrenched in the thinking of anyone who believes that because their political opponents are evil that anyone who makes them angry must be good.

People suffering from this impediment range from conservatives who recognize Ann Coulter's vitriol for what it is yet defend her because she attacks liberals to liberals who recognized Heather Mallick's invective and defended her merely because she made conservatives angry.

If you were to ask them, these people would insist that they stand for something. Yet when the conservative excuses the abuses perpetrated by Augusto Pinochet or when the liberal excuses the human rights record of countries like Iran it becomes clear that when it matters most these people stand for nothing.

No one who would excuse obvious moral violations by their particular "side" for simple virtue of parochialism should ever be taken seriously.

Sadly, many of those people will be taken seriously -- but largely only by those who already share their empty convictions. At the very least it helps the rest of us to identify those who believe in nothing.

These moral hazards are particularly dangerous because no matter what those who have fallen victim to them may insist, they are chosen. They may not be rationally chosen, but they are chosen nonetheless.

If one decides to undertake the (somehow) overglamourized yet (often) underappreciated vocation -- clearly better described as hobby of being a political blogger, why one is blogging and what one believes in should be closely intertwined.

Few people should blog under the delusion that their blogging will change the world. Even if some the enterprising and courageous bloggers in otherwise-oppressive countries like China, Cuba and Iran bring us valuable dispatches from parts of the world in which change is evidently badly needed, change in those countries appears as far off as ever.

If the prospects of affecting change in such places is so remote, just imagine the prospects of bloggers forcing changes in countries where a (mostly) just status quo has emerged.

Bloggers cannot honestly expect to change the world through blogging. Their blogging may support broader movements of social or political change, and may thus be a factor in such change, but they cannot accomplish it on their own.

The best reason to blog may well be as an expression of what one stands for.

And with the world in the state it's in, one thing is evident: a person has to stand for something. A person has to believe in something. Otherwise they can be expected to fall for anything.

The Change (video)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Marvelous Michaelle

Michaelle Jean may be Canada's best diplomat

When Michaelle Jean ascended to the role of Governor General, she would have been forgiven for thinking that she didn't have her work cut out for her.

Considering the central importance of the Governor General's office to Canadian democracy it's odd that the Governor General has largely been irrelevant in Canadian politics.

However, it's becoming increasingly clear that Michaelle Jean is setting the bar for future Governors General higher than it has ever been before.

There should be little doubt that Jean is one of the best diplomatic assets Canada currently has at its disposal -- if not the absolute best.

It seems that no matter which world leader Michaelle Jean meets she cannot help but impress. Following Barack Obama's visit to Ottawa this week Jean has been invited to continue correspondance with Obama regarding the situation in Haiti.

With Canadian soldiers still serving in the country, Haiti has become Canada's forgotton mission. And while Canada recently increased its aid commitment to Haiti the day-to-day prospects of Hatians has reportedly improved very little.

While the arduous task of arranging a formal visit to Washington may be prohibitive to Jean actually paying a visit to Obama in person, Jean will hopefully keep the lines of communication between herself and Obama open.

The new US President isn't the only foreign dignitary -- and key ally -- that Jean has mightily impressed. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was known to be awestruck by the Governor General.

Considering Jean's obviously incredible talent for the task it seems that the amount of time it takes to plan an official visit -- reportedly upwards of a year -- may actually make the Governor General's office a waste of her talents. Perhaps it's time for Canada to establish a new office -- perhaps something along the lines of a Diplomat General -- to accomodate individuals of Jean's mammoth talents, and allow other, less overwhelmingly impressive, individuals to serve as Governor General.

To date, Jean's efforts have produced dividends on two important areas of Canadian policy -- the fight against Quebec separatism and Canada's peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

By contrast Jean's successor, Adrienne Clarkson, ran up an impressive bill traveling Europe peddling the questionable idea of "Nordicness" to not-so-impressed northern European dignitaries.

If Michaelle Jean continues to impress on the global stage one can only imagine where her career path could take her. Perhaps elected office could lead her to becoming Canada's second female -- and first black -- Prime Minister.

But considering the normally apolitical nature of her office, such speculation may be more than slightly imprudent.

One way or another, Michaelle Jean is an incredible asset to Canada. Hopefully, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is wise enough to make the most of it.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Rod 2.0 Beta - "Obama and Michaelle Jean, Canada's First Black Governor General"

Pop Culture and Philosophy vol. 3: Sexual Confusion In a Time of Cyber-Identity

When Ghost in the Shell was first released as an anime nearly fifteen years ago, it provoked a great deal of criticism for the sexualized nature of some of the violence.

In the film the main character, Kotoko Kusanagi, undresses before engaging in combat.

Interestingly enough, however, Ghost in the Shell is essentially about a futuristic world wherein cybernetics has advanced to the point where entire android bodies can be implanted with human brains.

Kusanagi is a member of Section 9, a police unit that consists almost entirely of full cyborgs. As a result, Kusanagi's body isn't really female. It's merely a machine built to resemble a female body. It cannot reproduce -- although the first film deals with the issue of reproduction in an intruiging manner -- and could be populated by absolutely anyone.

Sociologists have long recognized that sex and gender are often treated as the same concept, yet are markedly different. Sex is a description of the sexual characteristics of the body. Males have male sexual characteristics and females have female sexual characteristics. In terms of biology, this essentially comes down to the sex organs.

In Ghost in the Shell, fully cybernetic bodies have no sex organs. Accordingly, they can only accurately be described as asexual.

Gender, meanwhile, is a much more complex topic. Gender is largely considered to be a function of identity: a collection of the ideas, concepts and emotions one holds regarding their sexuality combined with their phsyical characteristics and impulses.

Clearly, gender confusion would be much easier to deal with in an age of cyber identity -- wherein one's physical form could be entirely customized at will so long as one were willing to compromise on conventional concepts of their own humanity.

Transplanting into a fully cybernetic body would pose to one the philosophical dilemma of embracing asexuality in order to rectify their gender confusion -- something they believe will be solved by transplanting themselves into a body of another sex.

In order for the transplanting of one's brain to fully solve their gender confusion one would have to find someone willing to have another brain implanted in their body, and their own brain implanted in someone else's.

Organized gender swapping could very much be a reality in such a world.

But it also poses larger questions about how one keeps track of identity in such a world. Many of the documents used today to keep track of one's identities deal with physical characteristics -- height, weight, hair and eye colour, skin colour and even date of birth. These are all characteristics securely grounded in time and space.

Take the case of the Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister suggested in episode one of Stand Alone Complex -- an anime series treated as separate from the feature-length films or the original manga. When the Minister gets drunk he occasionally likes to swap bodies with Geishas at a club he often frequents. The national security of Japan is eventually compromised when an individual with criminal intents steals the body of the Minister.

The individual in question has perpetrated the ultimate act of identity theft. With notions of identity naturally focused around one's body it doesn't even necessarily take a talented actor to steal one's body and, forthwith, their identity.

The individuals swapping bodies through an organized gender swapping scheme could be considered to be swapping not only their sex, but also their effective identities. While one has to imagine that a society in which the swapping of bodies is possible would have to employ more fluid methods of tracking identity, one also has to consider the likelihood that such methods would first have to breach a psychological and philosophical barrier.

Certainly, the idea that one's true identity lies somewhere other than with their body wouldn't be a new concept. Religious people believe in the soul. However, one has to remember that they treat the soul largely as an otherworldly entity. The more fluid sense of identity required for a society like that portrayed in Ghost in the Shell would need to apply such ideas in the corporeal world.

TV programs like Ghost in the Shell mount an interesting challenge to traditional notions of identity. One only has to wonder how long it will be before global civilization actually has to deal with that challenge in real life.

Finally, Richard Dawkins Can Be Good For Something

Dawkins should trounce Ray Comfort and get paid for it

Most of thsoe truly rational-minded people who've paid any passing amount of attention to Richard Dawkins have long realized that he isn't good for much of anything.

Once upon a time Dawkins was an educator. However, since retiring from Oxford Dawkins has dedicated himself to single-mindedly promoting atheism. Which would make him about as useful as Canadian Cynic on Valentine's Day.

However, some use for Dawkins may have just come up.

Eager to test the arguments from his most recent book, You Can Lead An Atheist to Evidence But You Can't Make Him Think, Ray Comfort has offered Dawkins $10,000 to participate in a debate.

Comfort's intentions are very simple -- he wants to convert Dawkins.

"Richard Dawkins is arguably the most famous living atheist, now that Anthony Flew doubted his doubts and backslid as an atheist," Comfort said. "Flew said that he simply followed the evidence. I would like to see Richard Dawkins follow his example."

"One of Dawkins' major gripes is against religion," Comfort explained. "I am in total agreement on that one. I abhor religion. It is the opiate of the masses. It has left a bloody trail of destruction and human misery throughout history. Hitler even used it for his own ends. His other big beef is that he believes that the God of the Old Testament is a tyrant. If I had the image of God Dawkins has created in his mind, I, too, would be an atheist. The problem is that the god Mr Dawkins doesn't believe in, doesn't exist."

"I will donate $10,000 to him, or give it to any children's charity he names," Comfort announced. "All I ask is that he goes into a studio and gives me 20 minutes on why there is no God and why evolution is scientific. Then I will give 20 minutes on how we can know God exists and why evolution is nothing more than an unsubstantiated and unscientific fairy tale for grownups. Then we both will have 10 minutes to respond."

Comfort doesn't expect Dawkins to accept, however. He believes that Dawkins may be too afraid to debate him.

"Sadly, I have found that even evolution's most staunch believers are afraid to debate, because they know that their case for atheism and evolution is less than extremely weak," Comfort insisted. "I would be delighted (and honored) if Mr. Dawkins has the courage to debate me, but I'm not holding my breath."

Of course, Comfort couldn't be more wrong about this. If anything, scientists are avoiding debating Comfort on the topic because they don't believe there legitimately is a debate.

But while Dawkins really couldn't debate his way out of a paper bag in regards to religion -- he's well known for making numerous dead-end arguments and his book The God Delusion is really just a rehashed collection of other people's arguments -- Dawkins can win a debate with Comfort over evolution hands down. That is the best reason to take Comfort on.

Comfort has seemingly grown cocky since his 2007 encounter with the Rational Response Squad when he and Kirk Cameron managed to wipe the floor with them using some extremely unconvincing arguments.

Comfort's famously debunked banana argument, in which he suggests the shape of a banana is evidence of it being intelligently designed, is an example of the kind of argument Comfort is prone to. And while the Rational Response Squad may be so intellectually helpless as to be unable to counter such an argument, Dawkins is much smarter than them.

Comfort's classicly weak arguments against evolution have left him extremely vulnerable and just begging to be mowed down.

That is the best reason of all for Dawkins to crush Comfort on the topic of evolution, and actually have Comfort pay him to do it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Previewing the Harper/Obama Meeting

Economy, environment on meeting agenda

With Barack Obama making his first official visit to Canada today, the excitement in the nation's capital -- as in the country as a whole -- is absolutely palpable.

According to Stephen Harper, he's relishing the opportunity to discuss matters with Obama that were difficult to deal with under George W Bush's Republican administration -- like the environment.

Harper says he's particularly looking forward to working with Obama on fighting climate change.

"We've been trying to do so in an integrated economy when the United States has not been willing to do so. I think quite frankly that we have the present administration that wants to see some kind of regulation in this is an encouragement," Harper told Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room.

Harper also stressed the importance of resisting protectionist measures, noting how destructive protectionism would be to the global economy, particularly during this time of crisis.

As it turns out, Harper and Obama seem largely on the same page as it regards the economy. Harper wasn't the only leader granting an exclusive interview in another country yesterday. The CBC's Peter Mansbridge interviewed Obama from the White House. During the interview, Obama echoed many of Harper's sentiments.

Many Canadians will also be relieved to hear that Obama won't pressure -- at least officially -- Ottawa to remain militarily committed to Afghanistan. Although Prime Minister Harper and Defense Minister Peter MacKay still have to answer important questions regarding who will be expected to protect Canadian aid workers after the withdrawal of Canadian Armed Forces from the country.

Ever since Obama's election many Canadians have been eagerly looking forward to his first meeting with Stephen Harper. Many have wondered what kind of relationship the Conservative Prime Minister will have with a Democrat President.

Finally, the wait is over.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Of Professional Hatemongers and Professional Whores

Kenney and Arab Groups face off over funding

In a country where people can be haouled in front of a Human Rights Commission for saying this that others believe express hatred or contempt, it only seems logical that the government would deny funding to groups that express hatred or contempt.

Interestingly enough, some individuals have a problem with such a move.

Among them is Khaled Mouammar, who accused Kenney of being a "professional whore" for Israel.

Kenney recently identified the Canadian Arab Federation, a group in which Mouammar serves as President and the Canadian Islamic Congress as groups which promote hatred for Jews.

"There are organizations in Canada, as in Britain, that receive their share of media attention and public notoriety, but who at the same time as expressing hateful sentiments, expect to be treated as respectable interlocutors in the public discourse," Kenney explained. "These and other organizations are free within the confines of our law and consistent with our traditions of freedom of expression, to speak their mind, but they should not expect to receive resources from the state, support from taxpayers or any other form of official respect from the government or the organs of our state."

"I would encourage all other governments to take a similar approach to organizations that either excuse violence against Jews or express essentially anti-Semitic sentiments," Kenney continued.

"We do see the growth of a new anti-Semitism, the anti-Semitism predicated on the notion that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland," Kenney explained. "The argument is with those whose premise is that Israel itself is an abomination, and that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland. And in that sense anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism."

Of course, what Kenney really should have said is that this particular brand of anti-Zionism is< anti-Semitism. It would be foolish to heap those who object to the conduct of the Israeli state in with those who believe that it has no right to exist in the first place.

For his own part, NDP Finance Critic Thomas Mulcair seems to agree with the principle behind the decision. "I agree that people shouldn't get money from the federal government if they say hurtful things about any group," Mulcair said.

However, one also has to keep in mind that organizations such as the Canadian Arab Federation often provide services to immigrants that aren't only valuable to themselves, but to society as a whole. In particular, Kenney's move would deny the CAF $447,297 for language training and assistance with job searches.

If the CAF is to be denied this funding, the federal government will have to take responsibility for providing those services.

But even then, the government providing such services direclty is infitely preferable to providing funding to groups that can be said to violate -- ironically groups that often seek to exploit -- Canada's hate speech laws.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Peace, Order and Good Government Eh? - "Be Nice to Jason Kenney. Or Else."

Yaya Canada - "Political Whore Kenney Won't Put Out"

Calgary Rants - "Excellent Work by MP Jason Kenney"

Trouble Bubbling in Russia?

Gary Kasparov predicts Russian uprising

With Russians increasingly feeling the pinch of the economic crisis, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may be set to face some unexpected opposition.

But that opposition may not necessarily come from the Russian people -- the United Russia party has enjoyed spectacularly strong support from Russians ever since Putin helped engineer its genesis by uniting hundreds of smaller right-of-centre parties. Instead, that opposition may come from the most unlikely source imaginable -- from Putin's own hand-picked President, Dmitri Medvedev.

A worsening economic situation in Russia -- one that has Russia's oil oligarchs hemoraging money -- may be making Putin particularly vulnerable.

"It's a very fragile system, and Putin could well become a scapegoat for a lot of people inside the elites," muses Solidarinost leader Gary Kasparov. "Whether or not he genuinely wants to, we could see Medvedev emerge as a sort of perestroika leader."

Signs of a rift between Putin and Medvedev have been creeping into public view recently.

Medvedev recently questioned many of Putin's accomplishments during his time as President.

"It's easy to work when there are high revenues, above all from oil and gas exports," Medvedev recently said. "It's like you're not doing anything yourself, yet the profit just keeps coming in. That's great. But now it's important, first, to show that we can learn to spend money – budget money – rationally, and second, to be competent managers."

Of course Putin didn't always benefit from sky-high oil and gas revenues. He first came to office in 1999 when the Russian ruble had collapsed and the Russian economy was at an all-time low.

But Medvedev has been criticizing Putin an awful lot lately. He may be eyeing his Prime Minister as particularly vulnerable.

Medvedev has even ordered revision of a bill that would define treason in a manner that could cast political opposition as treasonous. This was one of Putin's bills.

"This was a key piece of Putinist legislation," says Kasparov. "It would've meant that people like me could easily be rounded up and arrested for treason. It's very significant that Medvedev and his allies have blocked it."

This is a significant change from less than two months ago when Medvedev helped push changes to Russia's Presidential term that would clearly pave the way for Putin to re-take the Presidency and hold it for another twelve years.

Putin's own role within the United Russia party -- he's always kept the party at arms length as much as possible -- could even turn out to be a serious liability for him if a power struggle with Medvedev really does materialize.

For his own part, Kasparov doesn't rule out the possibility of a mass revolt against Putin and Medvedev.

"People have had a stable life and still think that things will get better again," says Kasparov. "I expect the first waves of protests to start in earnest in March or April."

If Medvedev catches signs of such a revolt ahead of time, one can imagine that it would only hasten any machinations against Putin. But by the same token, Putin is known to be an extremely savvy political operator. There's no way he'll allow himself to be scapegoated without a fight.

Whether the Russian people turn on Medvedev and Putin or the two of them turn on each other, it's certain that the real winner will be Gary Kasparov and Solidarinost.

One can count on the Chess Grandmaster being prepared to take advantage.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guess What Mark Steyn and PZ Myers Have In Common?

At first glimpse, it may seem that Mark Steyn and PZ Myers have very little in common.

Mark Steyn is a cultural critic who routinely provokes Human Rights complaints and general outrage from the left side of the political spectrum.

PZ Myers is a tenured biology professor and devout atheist who routinely provokes outrage from the right side of the political spectrum with his tirades against religion.

Myers and Steyn couldn't seem more different. But as it turns out, these two individuals have more in common than the fact that they've attracted a similarly single-minded collection of zealous followers.

As it turns out, each man has a very similar attitude toward Islam.

Mark Steyn's stance on Islam has long been well known. He's an advocate of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations theory. He's even gone so far as to argue that western civilization needs to significantly bump up its fertility rate in order to prevent being supplanted by Islam.

In other words, Steyn portrays Islam as a menacing, dangerous threat to the so-called "civilized" world. He's been hauled before the Canadian Human Rights Commission for saying this.

Meanwhile, in a post at PZ Myers' blog, Pharyngula, Myers relates the story of Muzzammil Hassan, an individual who established a television station with the goal of refuting stereotypes about Islam. Instead, Muzzamill wound up murdering and decapitating his wife when she demanded a divorce.

Myers, who's never encountered a slander against religion he didn't immediately fall in love with, reaches an interesting conclusion: "it's not a stereotype, but simply a fact that Islam is a patriarchal religion of misogyny."

It's amazing that Myers, a darling of those on the left wing who want to firmly entrench atheism as a fundamental part of the progressive political movement, could walk away from such comments unscathed. Yet the progressive left that would so gleefully denounce Mark Steyn for expressing the same sentiment has remained predictably quiet in regards to the matter.

One has to imagine that it doesn't matter much that both men are approaching their argument from assumptions that are fundamentally flawed.

Separate portions of Benazir Bhutto's Reconciliation could be used to refute either man.

Bhutto's explanations of how the Koran actually mandates fair treatment of women and grants them political and civil rights would prove to be a significant challenge to Myers' sentiments. (Also, the fact that Mohammad's first wife was the first Muslim is a detail that seems to escape Islamophobes.)

Bhutto's dismantling of the clash of civilizations thesis in the closing chapter of teh book would confront Steyn with the reality that freedom and democracy, not the end of Islam, is most likely to erase any threat posed to the Western world by the Muslim world. If she were still alive today, Bhutto would remind Steyn that Western countries haven't often been good allies to Muslim democrats.

Sadly, Bhutto isn't alive to counter the fear mongering language of either man, having been martyred in the name of bringing democracy to Pakistan.

But it's amazing how much these two have in common when it regards Islam -- and equally amazing that Myers is being allowed a free pass for his Islamophobia.